February 4, 2005 | 12:57 PM ET

Think he wasn’t lying?  Try this.  Jonathan Cohn sorta disagrees here but only sorta…

Oh yeah, the guy wants you (and your children) poisoned too, so perhaps you will die before you are old enough to collect your Social Security.  (Don’t worry about your kids, though, they’re going to Iran, though I’m guessing, without body armor….)

We’ve got a new “Think Again,” here.  It’s a profile of someone I admire, Walley Bowen, and a discussion of his terrific new media democracy project, “Indylink.”

A little knowledge gets in the way of the party: Juan Cole on the elections.

Fox-Genovese: Abortions = Holocaust

Israel: “ Israel discriminates

Alice in Jarvisland
Ever since I agreed to do a single segment on MSNBC with Jeff Jarvis on the Iraqi elections –I refused their invitation for a return engagement—I feel as if I’ve stepped in a magical form of dog doody that reproduces itself amoeba-like, on your shoes every time you wipe it off.  Yes, I agree, it long ago got pretty tiresome, and here Jarvis pretty much throws in the towel by simply repeating my post of yesterday and calling me names, but I couldn’t help noticing that he comes pretty close to calling me a murderer, insisting that I “speculated in a way that could endanger men's lives….”  Really, shouldn’t this guy be put away, you know, rubber room and all?  He has now called me a potential murderer, accused me of blood libel—something that Christians did to Jews when in fact he’s the Christian and I’m the Jew--said I hate America, hate freedom, and now that I admit to doing no work to back up my comments.  Recall, every comment I’ve made has been about the CIA. 

Everything I’ve said about the CIA contains a judgment that is a lot more mild than those the CIA has long admitted about itself.  We know, and the CIA does not dispute the fact that it has participated in murder, torture, overthrow of government, the creation of phony news outlets and the buying of journalists.  We know they are participating in torture and discussing the recreation of death squads in Iraq at this very moment.  I’ve studied the CIA for over twenty years, written about it at length, included its history in both my Master’s degree and my doctoral studies, as well as my second and sixth books, and have even been given a guided tour of the place by agents there, (where I was proudly shown relics of Che Guevara’s assassination).  So I feel pretty confident talking about the CIA.  On the other hand, I’ve never mentioned the name of an Iraqi blogger in my life (except Salam Pax, yesterday), and so I’m happy to admit I know nothing about them.  For Jarvis, who is either too stupid or too dishonest—or just possibly clinically insane—says  I’m a murderer, blood libeler, an America hater, and a hypocrite, so I’ll repeat it for him real slow this time:  I know something about the CIA so I write and speak about the CIA.  I know nothing about Iraqi bloggers so I speak and write nothing about Iraqi bloggers.  Got it?

Perhaps it’s a case of what shrinks call “transference.”  After all, Jarvis blathers on about these wonderful blogger guys—I forget their names—who were brought to the U.S. to hang with the great Satan, George W. Bush.  If you were an Iraqi blogger-killer, who would present a more inviting target:  these close personal friends of W Jarvis is crowing about or um, nobody?  (Remember no name of any Iraqi blogger has ever passed through my lips [again,except Salam Pax, yesterday].)  More to the point, how comically nutty is it that this argument is even taking place?  (It’s beginning to rival the Scarborough show discussion about whether Hollywood secular Jews like anal sex.)  Even given his dishonest, hysterical and downright crazy accusations, for them to make any sense, we would also have to assume that

  1. There really are Iraqi blogger-killers out there;
  2. They watch MSNBC and read Altercation;
  3. If they do watch MSNBC and read Altercation--and I’m guessing this is only a little more likely than Jarvis settling down with Paris Hilton for the rest of their lives-- they  need me to suggest that the organization that is trying to kill them, torture them, etc., might want to start a blog. 

All that being the case, they need then to go out and find these bloggers, which by the way, will be a lot easier because Jeff Jarvis is telling them which ones have bonded big-time with George Bush.  Oops I did it again.  How many Iraqi bloggers did that kill?  In truth, I think the only person likely to die from this is Jarvis.  It can’t be healthy to contort yourself in so unnatural a position—even metaphorically—at his age.  Moreover, if the fellas at the CIA ever read his blog, they are going to be pissed about how stupid and incompetent he is portraying them to be.  "After all," they must be saying, “We can overthrow governments, torture people, and create death squads.  We can create entire newspapers, radio and television stations and this little twerp is going around saying it’s impossible we could create a phony blog?  Is he for real?  I think maybe we’d better have him killed.”  I’d feel bad about that but not as bad as I would have if the lunatic did not have me working on Slacker Friday.  In any case, I’d stay away from any manholes, were I you, bub.

Update: This just in: The "I am Large, I contain multitudes," Quote of the Day:  Jeff Jarvis:  "[Eric Alterman] is making every blogger in Iraq -- every citizen who dares to speak online -- a suspect in his conspiracy theories and is potentially endangering every one of them."

Relevant Correspondence:

Name: Robert Earle
Hometown: Torrance, CA

I imagine I'm about the thousandth person to mention this, but I figured you (and your buddy Jeff Jarvis) would want to know that CNN Newsnight just did a story on regular-looking news Web sites that are actually run by the Defense Department.  Aside from questions of propaganda, and the paying of outside journalists to generate copy for them, it also isn't much of a jump from DoD Web sites to CIA Web sites, now is it?

Eric replies: Murderer!

What’s wrong with the MSM, part XXVI: No substance please, we’re The Note.

Does the Administration have a bicameral legislative timetable and/or strategy in mind, or are they being "flexible" (a.k.a., making it up as they go along)?

How much private (free!!!) polling is the White House seeing on Social Security?

Where and how are the Big Business TV ads that are going to be run in support of the effort being focus grouped?

Beyond AARP, who or what will put big money behind the anti-effort?

Does today's Wall Street Journal editorial warning the Administration against a Medicare-style compromise on Social Security presage what the White House can expect from the right if it starts to seek compromise to gain Democratic votes?

What tweaks (if any) have been made in the White House strategy in the last 48 hours, based on reacting to what has happened since SOTU?

Can we stop reading those repetitive, boring, and incomplete journalistic Q&As on how private accounts would work, blah blah blah, how the system is currently funded blah blah blah, what the President is proposing, blah blah blah?

Eric replies: War, WMDs, Hussein-al-Al Qaida, Swift Boats, Tax-cuts for the wealthy, Social Security, blah, blah, blah.  Who cares?

Please shoot me... if I ever start using Altercation to publish long, gushy love letters to myself.

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Charles Pierce
Dateline: Jacksonville, FL
Hey Doc:
What do we make of a city that has high schools named after not only Robert E. Lee, but also Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the KKK and mastermind of the Fort Pillow massacre, in which some black Union soldiers were rounded up and burned alive?  We make a Super Bowl city out of it, by God.  I swear, shortly after the final gun Sunday, the local Chamber of Commerce will be entering witness-protection.  However, if it happens to be a week abounding in constitutionally mandated horse-hockey, there's nothing like The Big Old Football Game to divert your attention.  Didn't see a word.  Wouldn't have believed a word, if I had.  Too busy talking to old, limping football players.

Seriously, though, is handing the problem of gang violence over to Laura (Dewey-D) Bush any stranger than handing the State Department over to Condoleeza Rice or the Justice Department to Alberto Gonzales?  At least, unlike the other two, Laura doesn't yet have a track record of screwing up in her designated field of operation.  In fact, by that measure, she's miles ahead of most of the Cabinet.  You go, girl.

Speaking of manifest incompetents, I chanced by Mr. Murdoch's little news operation on TV last night and, lo and behold, there was Bill (Sportin' Life) Bennett.  My first thought was, "Why is this man wearing a leather jacket and a tie?  Has Caesar's repossessed all his suits?"  My next thought, as the dialogue went along -- they were talking about the new plan to force Granny to eat the geraniums -- was to wonder whether there's anything at all you could possibly do to cause you to be hooted off an established position as a "conservative spokesman."  Honestly, here's a guy who is one step and a book deal removed from the 80-year-old women with the oxygen tubes in their noses and the "Jesus Is The Answer" T-shirts, pumping the quarters into the slots at midnight at the casinos in Tunica.  Yet, he's still on TV giving the ant-and-the-grasshopper lecture, and talking about sound fiscal planning.  Meanwhile, nobody with the IQ of a grape would loan him a quarter for a phone call -- not without at least a luxury car for collateral, anyway.  When did this nation forget how to laugh at public clowns?

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to dethrone Thomas Friedman as the king of global analysts and award it to Dan Sneider of the San Jose Mercury News (with a salute to Fred Kaplan on Slate for pointing it out).

I'm truly baffled.  When a confidential CIA report was leaked predicting a bleak future for Iraq, the press was all over it.  When a public CIA report PREDICTS THE DEMISE OF THE UNITED STATES, only one newspaper takes notice.  But here it is.  The report predicts within 15 years the U.S. will have "eroded" from sole superpower to "an important shaper of the international order."   The report, in polite language, states the obvious: we're sacrificing Asia for the Middle East, and all the while second-level economic powers (India, Brazil) are circling us like sharks.  "U.S. preoccupation with the war on terrorism is largely irrelevant to the security concerns of most Asians...U.S. disengagement from what matters to Asian allies would increase the likelihood that they will climb on Beijing's bandwagon."  And who is going to suffer the consequences?  "[T]he middle classes of the developed world in particular."  Robert Reich, like a crazy street preacher, used to warn that government spending on infrastructure and education was necessary to increase (or decrease) economic growth.  Now the CIA is writing his Book of Revelations.  The same thing is being whispered on the neocon right: here's the Weekly Standard quoting an "experienced U.S. East Asia expert...not known for particularly bellicose views": "Beijing is kicking our asses all over the region."  But the Standard's article, entitled "Who Forgot China?" is delusional -- it doesn't mention money or economics at all.  It merely urges Dubya to show the same backbone with China that it did with Saddam.  That's kinda hard to do when China holds your economy by the short hairs.  Maybe that's why Dubya did not mention "China" or "India" at all in the state of the union address, and mentioned "Asia" only once (that we were working with our Asian allies to contain North Korea). 

Name: Sarah Jefferies
Hometown: Copperas Cove, TX (just up the road from FORT HOOD)

Dr. E ~
Jeff Jarvis is stupefied that you or anybody else could possibly believe that the CIA could do anything so heinous as to plant one or two bloggers "in Iraq" to paint us some very pretty pictures.  And these pictures...oh man...they're using shades of rose I didn't know existed!

The thing is, if the CIA did that, it would be WRONG.  Not only wrong, but it would be a kind of lie, wouldn't it?  I mean, that would be as wrong as, say, the administration PAYING radio talk-show hosts to talk up Bush's ideas on their shows...then hiding those payments from us!  And we know that couldn't happen.  Why?  C'mon, you know why!  Bush is a moral man.  He's a Godly man.  And, even more importantly, he doesn't need faux CIA bloggers to lie to us about conditions in Iraq, because it's really, really great over there now, and it's all because of our visionary leader!     

So please, no more of this liberal knee-jerk paranoid conspiracy thinking.  You have the power to spare us any more of Mr. Jarvis's blogorrhea on the subject, and I ain't too proud to beg.

From: Barry R.
Hometown: The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
I’m an economics kind a guy.  I study markets and investment strategy, not politics.  But I cannot help but notice that the GOP is very good at what they do, and the Dems should rip a page out of their playbook.

To protect Social Security, they should use the same strategy that was so successfully applied to Tom Daschle in 2004.  Some 15+ GOP Senators are up for re-election in 2006.  Pick the most vulnerable, target them, and let them know that whoever is voting for this phony “reform” will be targeted for defeat Daschle style -- with “whatever it takes.”  Treat the campaign like a Presidential election, hook up with MoveOn.org, raise 200+ million dollars -- and slaughter them politically.  Start NOW, not in 2006.  Bury their states with ads, push polls, and every sleazy GOP trick in the book, the whole 9 yards.

This is a fight for the survival of the Dems as a party, and I suspect that’s what motivated Karl Rove to go after S.S. in the first place -- to once and for all, utterly destroy the opponent, setting the stage for GOP dominance.  4 more years?  Try 4 score more years.  (Scared yet?)

My mom always had good advice for aspiring Wall Streeters: Dress British, Think Yiddish.  That meant maintaining an impeccable set of manners and business etiquette as well as professional appearance, but still being creative and innovative in clever, outside the box thinking. 

The Dems need a variation on that: Think Progressive, Campaign Regressive.  To save the most important Democratic program, use the Republicans’ hard knuckled campaign techniques.  No holds barred, salted earth.  If the Dems go limp over this, and lose, they are done, finished, kaput.  

Time to go to the mattresses.

February 3, 2005 | 11:35 AM ET

The missing media

No I didn’t watch.  I went to see the man Jon Stewart describes as the “other Korea”—Chick--at the Blue Note last night.  The main reason I didn’t watch is that I really like Chick Corea when he’s not playing fusion-based compositions that are inspired by old L. Ron Hubbard novels.  (Last night he had the band “Touchstone,” which played wonderful Flamenco influenced music.  More here.

But another big reason is that I tend to find it both annoying and insulting when someone feels they can lie to my face, particularly in their State of the Union addresses.  Bush has a particularly sorry-ass history in this regard.  I don’t think, for instance, that "Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent." [George W. Bush, State of the Union Address] is a true statement. 

I am also not enamored of being told falsehoods like:  “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” and, Saddam Hussein "had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb,” etc., etc.  So I didn’t want to hear Bush’s lies about Social Security this year any more than I wanted to hear his lies about sending a manned mission to Mars last year.  Let him destroy Social Security on Mars.  On this planet, nothing the man says can be taken at face value and hence, listening to him talk is a waste of time.  (Or am I mistaken and was that inaugural address actually accurate?  Have we broken off relations with Pakistan and Uzbekistan?  Have we stopped sending prisoners to be tortured in Egypt?  Have we offered the prisoners at Guantanamo their full rights as prisoners of war?  What?  We haven’t?  Well, OK then.)

It’s very hard to find even a hint of the president’s pathological proclivity towards willful deceit and manipulation in the media coverage of last night’s lies.  The closest we can come is former Assistant Managing Editor Robert Kaiser in a chat on Washingtonpost.com, (c/o Today’s Papers). Asked if they guy was making stuff up, Kaiser replied,

Yes. Bush often describes a world whose features are all highly debatable, if not simply invented.  He proposes "a comprehensive health care agenda" that will leave perhaps 50 million Americans without health insurance.  Is that comprehensive in any meaningful sense?  He promises big economic benefits from legal changes, "tort reform," that independent economists say cannot have more than a small economic effect even if enacted, which is not likely.  [And] he promises to increase the size of Pell Grants, not noting that they have shrunk far below the level he promised when he came into the White House.

Here.  Just try, however, finding that in today’s Washington Post.  And look how gently the lies are treated in today’s L.A. Times, which, nevertheless is still more than you will find, I fear, in The New York Times.

But even the big nothing you’ll find in the Times is more than can be said for Chris Matthews on “Hardball.”  Media Matters alerts us to the fact that

The February 2 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, which devoted the entire hour to discussing President Bush's State of the Union address, featured six Republican officials and pundits and one Democratic pundit.

White House Communications Director Nicole Devenish, Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) each appeared for solo interviews.  Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham and MSNBC host and former Representative Joe Scarborough (R-FL) joined host Chris Matthews on a panel with Newsweek chief political correspondent and NBC News political analyst Howard Fineman and NBC News White House correspondent David Gregory.  Actor and Bush supporter Ron Silver appeared opposite Democratic
strategist Hilary Rosen. [ here]  

Remember, the Clinton/Gore hater Matthews is the alleged “liberal” on MSNBC, about to be surrounded not only by Republican politician Joe Scarborough, but conservative America-hurter, Tucker Carlson.  Yes, sorry, but things are really that bad.

Quote of the day, George W. Bush:  "I will listen to anyone who has a good idea to offer."  Feel free to send in yours.

Is it feeling a little drafty in here?

I forgive you but I still want your ass fired.

Another quote, Jeff Jarvis: “Next we have Eric Alterman spreading the figments of their poisoned imaginations on MSNBC.” 

Question one, I know I could lose a little around the middle, and I’m trying.  I cut back to two glasses of wine with dinner (on weekdays) and bagel and lox only every other morning, but even so, is it fair to use “Eric Alterman” as a collective  noun?  How long will these weightists make the rest of us feel inferior and embarrassed for our spare tires?

But more to the point, let’s make one thing clear, because the dishonest Jarvis has now several times deliberately mis-stated the facts.  Here’s the point.  Never have I ever accused any Iraqi blog of being a CIA front or receiving CIA funds.  The fact is, I have never even looked at an Iraqi blog, could not name one (save perhaps Salam Pax, which I once red an article about, but never clicked on, and I don’t even know if it’s still operating) even if Jarvis’s friends in Langley put bamboo shoots beneath my fingernails and injected me with sodium pentothal.  Given the above, I have certainly never made any accusations against any Iraqi blog, as that would be impossible.  If Jeff Jarvis can disprove the above statement, I promise to make a $10,000 contribution to the Republican National Committee.

What has gotten Jarvis’s panties in a bundle—so much so, that he has actually accused a Jew of committing “blood libel” against the CIA no less; [um, just where the heck is Abe Foxman and the ADL when they are needed?] -- is exactly this:  When asked about them on MSNBC, after he brought it up, I contended that it would not tax my imagination to believe that an organization that has been demonstrated to have participated enthusiastically in: terrorism, death squads, political assassination, mass murder, the overthrow of democratic governments; the buying of journalists; black propaganda, and most recently the torture of innocents —namely the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency— might not draw any moral lines before deciding to maybe put up a phony blog or two.  I stand by that observation and I contend that anyone who finds it impossible is either a liar or a lunatic.  Jarvis probably understands this, which is why he so dishonestly attempts to twist my words so that my original contention will be lost.  On the question of whether he is, in fact, a liar or a lunatic, however, I take no position.  Reports of Jarivis's hysterics at the the Harvard Blogging Conference suggest that this may be a false choice.)  Either way, if I worked at the CIA I’d be thrilled to buy the guy a drink (at least…).

And hey look.  The Iraqi election figures don’t seem to add up.  Quel Surprise.  Why does Editor and Publisher hate America?  And does anybody remember the Sunnis?  Um, they didn’t get the memo on the Master Narrative in time, and forgot to warm punditocracy hearts with their votes.  Why do the Sunnis hate America?  Oh wait…

Yet Another:  "There was urinating and defecating on the property, vomiting on the stairways. The kitchen was destroyed, the floors were destroyed, my baby grand piano was used as a wet bar and taken apart."  Who says those New York Timesers don’t know how to party?

Quote of The Day, History:  “Will I … what?  Do I … what?  Oh, baby, YOU KNOW WHAT I LIKE.”   Here.  (P.S.  How incredible is Answers.com?  Hat tip, Mean Mr. Mossberg…)

Back to Chick C. for a second:  No word on whether this Corea will be placed by David Frum in his imaginary “Axis of Evil."  No word on whether his wife Danielle “You use your husband’s name, I’ll keep my own, thanks” Crittenden will send out a mass e-mail taking “credit,”--if that be an appropriate term for putting nonsensical phrases in the president’s mouth, or at least having one’s wife claim you did— again.  In the meantime, this is one of my favorite new jazz albums of the past ten years and demonstrates incredible beauty, originality, versatility, and chops.

Ruminations, 1: AIPAC
My friends on Capital Hill tell me yesterday was a really bad day for AIPAC.  "The House and Senate both passed even-handed pro-Abbas resolution.  Then Bush offered $350 m in aid with none of the usual 'Israel is good. Pals suck' rhetoric.”  They tell me AIPAC did NOTHING to combat Hill resolutions.  Neither support nor opposed although privately they told staffers to hold off on praising Abbas."

They conclude, therefore “Something is changing.  A quiet AIPAC may mean it knows bad times (perhaps indictments?) are coming”  They point me to this.

Ruminations, II: Springsteen
A poster on stoneponylive.com informs the world, of the following developments.

New album coming in April.....all good things come in April....like opening day...Also Produced by Brendan O'Brien.. [the three] singles on the album are: Devils In Dust...song about US soldier in Iraq; Long Time Coming; The Hitter ...only played in Syracuse part of tour

COMING UP: abbreviated tour with part of E Street Band to follow; .play small venues theatres...bigger arena tour in Summer

August 2005, the 30th Anniversary of Born to Run release....3 disk set Born to Run completely re-mastered; Plus CD of Roxy show performances of Born to Run material PLUS DVD of show..pristene...and remastered from 30 years ago also part of release

Correspondents Corner:

From: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: Ivory Tower
E:
It struck me that I should feel mighty guilty after reading your criticism of U2 and the Eagles for their high ticket prices.  After all, I am among that class of entertainers with the highest cover charge in America.  My students are paying more than $600 per class to hear me tell stale jokes, quote the Simpsons, and otherwise pontificate about stuff for three hours.  In contrast, you and Eric Rauchway teach within this country's exemplary public university systems, so y'all don't have to feel quite as guilty.

This has always boggled my mind: Why would demonstrably intelligent and rational folks pay four or five times as much to hear me teach at a snobby private university when they get a much better deal from Drs. Alterman and Rauchway?  The more my employer raises its price, the more consumers want to give away substantial portions of their lifetime savings and earnings to it.  And we applaud when the federal government subsidizes private education with loans and grants while state governments gut the infrastructure of public universities.

When you hear folks on the right criticize my industry, you always hear them complain that we are corrupting the youth with our left-liberal ideas.  I can't say they are completely wrong about the lack of political diversity among liberal arts faculty in elite universities.  But I can't say that we are particularly good at whatever clumsy indoctrination we attempt.  Whatever we do seems fairly harmless.  Of course, right-wing critics of higher education (Mr. Brooks, chief among them) tend to ignore all the Baylors, Bob Joneses, and BYUs of this vast and diverse country and instead cry about Berkeley and Columbia.  They seem to be missing the point entirely.

Why don't conservatives who tend to believe in the rationality of markets mount a major campaign to drain elitist private universities of their cultural status and pool of applicants?  Instead of working to stop conservative alumni from writing checks, why don't they convince parents of all persuasions to stop pushing their children to expensive private schools?  If you believe in markets, then you can't possibly tolerate this state of affairs.  A real populist move would be to endorse the slashing of federal financial aid for private universities and a set of incentives to drive up public support for public universities so they can keep their tuition costs low.

Of course, to do this you would have to endorse -- as Thomas Jefferson did -- the brilliance of public universities.

We have seen an alarming rollback in public support for public universities in the past 30 years.  Most of the best ones are quasi-private, in the sense that they are about 75 percent self-funded.  State support is a tiny and shrinking portion of the operating budget of public universities.  This should count as an emergency that threatens the future of a vast and important segment of tomorrow's CEOs and citizens.

Name: Patty
Hometown: Nowhere, Kansas
Here's a link to an article about the bankruptcy/medical costs connection - too bad Big Little George doesn't like to read, or he could use it to enlighten himself in time for tonight's speech.

Keep up the good work, and thanks for heads up on your friend in Lawrence, the brightest spot in this part of the prairie!

Name: Brian Craven
Hometown: Orlando

Hearing from Major Bob helps remind us that whether you agree with the war or not, once you are a part of it you are swallowed by a swirling vortex of surreal experiences.  My heart goes out every day to those men and women, and I want them home safe, NOW.  And more than that, I don't want my 20-year-old and soon-to-be 18-year-old sons worrying about the draft you know we are going to get, since we have no real exit strategy.  To me, the administration's latest statement that they won't set a withdrawal timeline is a crucial part of the delaying tactic designed to keep us parents from freaking out now--we aren't supposed to talk about it because they haven't decided on when we will withdraw.  How incredibly simplistic and insulting!  To me, that is more proof than ever that a draft will happen.

February 2, 2005 | 12:26 PM ET

The union's sorry state

Sorry-ass State of the Union
By Siva

I spent the day reflecting on previous W States of the Union.  Hey, Mr. Prez, is that Axis of Evil any less evil now?  Is North Korea any more cooperative?  Is Iran any less belligerent?  How is that battle against AIDS in Africa going?  Did you find all that yellowcake from Niger?  How about all those caches of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq?  Are we still leaving children behind?  Have we nabbed Bin Laden?  Can I start planning my trip to Mars now?

Is there one major plan or goal expressed by Bush in a State of the Union that has worked?  Where are the standards of judgment?  Where is the scorecard?

We should start a pool on which of the big whoppers we are likely to hear tonight will reveal itself to be ridiculous first.  Wait.  That might not work.  Everyone knew that he was not going to do anything about AIDS in Africa as soon as it came out of his mouth.

It has struck me as troubling that the Washington press corps has already started giving Bush a pass on truth and candor, just a week into his second term.  Harry Reid called for a clear exit strategy for Iraq, so we know what success means.  Seems reasonable.  Scott McLellan responded that the president will not issue a "timetable" on withdrawal because terrorists will just wait through the timetable.  Reporters shrugged.  That makes sense, no?

Problem is, a strategy is not a timetable and a timetable is not a strategy.  Reid wants to hear a list of goals or measurements.  He did not ask for a timetable.  He does not want to hear that troops will be home by December.  He wants to hear that a few units will come home when, say, the Iraqi security forces have secured the road between Baghdad and the Baghdad airport.  Reid wants the reasonable.  Bush claims Reid wants the unreasonable.  Reporters don't discern between these two things.  And so we move on into the morass.

What would happen if all that energy spent on trying to get John Kerry to clarify his plans for Iraq were now spent on the guy who actually has responsibility for that mess?  Can't we have a national conversation about accountability?

(end Siva)

Watch the State of the Union with this handy lie detector: here.

The Center for American Progress has a new blog, ThinkProgress.org, and Comrade Podesta will be live tonight.  Check it out; it’s quite good.

Almost (well not really, but much of…) everything that’s wrong with the way the media handle politics, in one easy lesson from The Note.

Watch to see which Democrats get a presidential pat (or hug) on the way in.  (If any...)

Watch to see if the White House puts anything in the speech that can compete with Social Security for lede status.

See if the axis of evil tonight (at least implicitly) will be "the status quo," "the do-nothings," and Howard Dean.  (Just kidding.)

Tally applause if you want. (But you will lose count during the Iraq election section.)

Watch how often the pool director chooses Sen. Clinton as the reaction cut-away.

Look for the grudging Charlie Rangel-style forced clapping by some. (That is when the hands say "clap" but the eyes say "shrug.")

Determine which lines are for "the room," which lines are for the citizenry watching on TV, and which for the world audience.

Strain to see who is in the First Lady's box besides the pre-announced Iraqis.

Note well the new ABC News/Washington Post poll that shows President Bush going into the first State of the Union of his second term with a 50 percent job approval rating; 87 percent of Republicans give him a thumbs up, compared to just 14 percent of Democrats who agree, according to ABC News Polling Director Gary Langer. LINK

Watch to see if there are any insta-polls of repute.

And be sure to tune in to ABC News for live blah, Blah, blah…

The C train is back already.  The Wall Street Journal editorial page apology for this is still a figment of our imagination.

What about the “decadent coastal elites?”  How to be a  McCarthyite, part II.  Let us welcome Jeff Jarvis into the club together with Rush, O’Reilly, Coulter and Little Roy.  He writes, “The worst of them -- the rabid Eeyores, the Coles and Altermans -- exhibited utter disdain to the point of hate toward anyone there who dared to say positive things about their freedom and America."  I don’t know what an “Eyeore” is in this context, and I don’t really care, but I’ll venture a guess that it has something to do with someone who thinks maybe the Bush administration was not telling the entire truth about its desire to invade Iraq.  Here.

That’s how it works, folks.  The Bush administration/big media Master Narrative on the elections has been defined as follows:

  • Democracy, good. 
  • Democracy  = election.  Elections, good. 
  • Democracy = elections = invasion of Iraq.  Invasion of Iraq, good.

  • Questioning, bad. 
  • Bad = disloyal = “hate America, hate freedom.” 

Question any part of the Master Narrative, regardless of its relationship to reality and you are branded a traitor.  The Jarvises of the world could not be doing the job better if they  were placed on the Rove payroll.  (Hmmm, I wonder….)

(We note for the record that Jeff Jarvis, with a background in EntertainmentWeeklyTVGuidePeople, enjoys no specialized knowledge with regard to Iraq and Iran and is therefore easy prey for the Bush administration’s propaganda ploys.  Juan Cole, on the other hand, has spent his adult life studying the region, knows its history and cultures, speaks and reads its languages and literature.  Because Cole’s understanding leaves him suspicious of the administration’s specious claims, the belligerently ignorant Jarvis tars him as someone who hates "freedom and America."  We recalled that Joe McCarthy purged the State Department of Asian experts because he and his cohorts did not like what they were saying about China.  This helped pave the path for the tragedy of Vietnam.  The tragedy of our misadventure in Iraq was paved with an ignorance no less belligerent—and dangerous.  And this time, we don’t even need a McCarthy.  We’ve got Coulters, Sullivans and Jarvises to do their dirty work for them.)

This Jarvis “blood libel/Get on the bus or else” bluster reminds me of the day the Marines tore down the statue in Baghdad.  I had just questioned Paul Wolfowitz’s contention that “we will be welcomed as liberators” in The Nation.  What happened on that day?  Little Roy demanded that I take it back on his blog.  David Brooks announced that my entire world view had collapsed.  Bill O’Reilly showed my picture on Fox—the last time my face has been up there—as some kind of Wall of Shame type thing.  And the Weekly Standard included me in their collections of idiotic statements, or whatever it is they call them.  What else happened?  Well, I was right.  More than 1300 dead Americans and 11,000 injured Americans and who knows how many tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would tell you that, if they were still alive to do so.  We were “welcomed” as not as liberators but as occupiers.  A bunch of marines pulling down a statue didn’t change that; proclaiming “mission accomplished” didn’t change that; pretending your found WMDs won’t change that; and elections, unfortunately, won’t change it.  Thousands more will die for Bush’s ignorance and arrogance.  And the Jarvises, Sullivans, O’Reillys, etc. will do their damnedest to make sure that the rest of us stick to their stupid script.  Well, not this time, bub.

P.S.  And this guy.

P.P.S.  Isn't saying someone hates freedom and hates America kind of suspect in itself?  After all, America IS freedom.  If you mention one right after another, it makes it sound as if maybe that’s not true.  Kind of disloyal if you ask me.  Why does Jeff Jarvis hate America?

More evidence I hate America:

Not a parody:

“Breaking News from ABCNEWS.com:
PUNXSUTAWNEY PHIL SEES HIS SHADOW, INDICATING SIX MORE WEEKS OF WINTER"

Also not a parody.

Alter-announcements:  I’ll be on a panel on punditry sponsored by the Center for American Progress at the HBO Comedy Fest in Aspen on Saturday morning, February 12, and signing books at the Explore book store there at noon. 

I’ll be interviewed about lying presidents, and stuff, at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University on Monday afternoon, February 21. 

The Nation Institute panel on the future of liberalism at the New School in New York has been postponed until sometime in May.

Springsteen Conference Announcement
The Web site and electronic call for papers for Glory Days: A Bruce Springsteen Symposium, are now available here.

This conference organized by Penn State University's Conferences and Institutes and Penn State Altoona's Division of Arts and Humanities and hosted by Monmouth University, will be held on September 9-10, 2005 and will feature paper presentations, dynamic plenary sessions, special exhibits and musical performances.

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Eric David
Hometown: Elizabeth, NJ

Eric:
I agree 110% with your thoughts on Bono.  You could also lump Springsteen into that same category.  Hey, I'm a fan just like you, but I'll call the guy out when he needs it.  I paid $75 for a seat in the last row, behind the stage, at MSG about 5 years ago.  Who knows what he's charging for tickets now?  I think the back of his head (which was all I could see for most of the show) was technically closer to Queens than to my seat.  And since you mentioned Babs, you really got me started.  I think the term "limousine liberal" was invented just for her.  I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that once the curtain is drawn, she secretly pulls the (R) lever every time to lock in that upper-class tax cut!

Name: William Rabkin
Hometown: Pasadena, CA

I understand your disappointment at U2's ticket prices, but I believe the situation is a little more complicated than your description.  If U2 charged $30 per seat, that would hardly mean that working class people would be able to see the shows.  It merely means that scalpers would be able to make an even larger profit than they will now.

I don't know how it is in the rest of the country, but here in Los Angeles, it's almost impossible for an ordinary person to get a decent seat from Ticketmaster.  Even if you log on to their site at the first second tickets go on sale, entire sections are already unavailable.  A day later, you can buy those seats from a "ticket broker" for 200-2000% of face value.

If I want to see U2 in L.A., I know I'll have to pay hundreds of dollars for each ticket.  Given that, I'd much rather see my money going to Bono and the boys rather than the vultures who manage to collect the lion's share of the ticket price despite the fact they do nothing to create the show.

Pearl Jam tried to fight the process years ago.  The sad thing is not that they lost, but that they were widely mocked for trying to stand up to Ticketmaster.  No one seems to care about making laws to stop this ongoing theft, so how can we blame the artists for deciding they deserve the profits from their work, rather than a corrupt bureaucracy?

Name: Nick Holshouser
Hometown: Brevard, NC

Eric,
Yesterday's mail from Mike Ward reminded me that there are plenty of younger folks who don't know the sad history of our involvement in South American terrorism (back when WE were the terrorists).  The School of the America's Watch ( SOAW) has a long history of activism and protest and just last week five more peace activists were sentenced to terms in federal prison for their non-violent protests against the now named "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation" which is a real nice name for a place where Latin American security forces learn the ins and outs of how to quell the desire for real freedom and democracy expressed by the citizenry of their assorted countries.  "Over its 56 years, the SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics." ( link)  And we should all be too familiar with how the CIA and DOD practice military intelligence, interrogation, and counterinsurgency techniques.

Graduates of the school are quite an accomplished lot, with credits for such freedom spreading acts such as the 1989 University of Central America Massacre whose victims included;

  • Ignacio Ellacuria, rector of the University and an outspoken critic of the Army
  • Ignacio Martin Baro, who studied the effects of war on the human psyche
  • Segundo Montes, a strong advocate for refugees and human rights
  • Amano Lopez, a gifted counselor and pastoral worker
  • Joaquin Lopez y Lopez, director of an education program in poor communities
  • Juan Ramon Moreno, a gifted preacher and retreat leader
  • Elba Ramos, the Jesuits' housekeeper, remembered as sensitive and intuitive
  • Celina Ramos, Elba's 14-year-old daughter who had worked as a catechist

Then there was the 1998 Segovia Massacre in Colombia whose victims numbered 43 people, including three children, and 50 others wounded.

And their signal achievement, the murders at El Mozote and nearby villages in El Salvador in 1981, where the dead numbered 767 people who were murdered by the U.S.-trained Atlacatl Battalion in a counterinsurgency operation.

In fact, as the SOAW notes, "In a study of data on individual SOA graduates over a 40-year time span, Kate McCoy of the University of Wisconsin found that 'students who took multiple courses at the School were almost four times more likely to violate [human rights] than their counterparts who took only one course. ...greater exposure to the School of the Americas training makes trainees more likely to engage in human rights violations ...'" ( link)

And finally, in keeping with the recent labor theme, it is interesting that the SOAW notes "From its beginning, the mission of the SOA has been to train soldiers to protect the interests of multinational corporations and maintain the economic status quo for the few rich and powerful in the U.S. and their cohorts in Latin America.  Labor leaders and union organizers have always been among the primary targets of SOA violence." ( link)  You see, it isn't sufficient to ship jobs to our Latin neighbors, we also need to make sure that those pesky unions don't start organizing workers down there either.  Globalization needn't be a race to the bottom, maybe we can all just go straight to hell.

To all of us from Major Bob:
A short note from the Internet cafe here at Camp Stryker (part of the mega-plex base surrounding Baghdad International Airport), Iraq: I am safe on the ground.

I'll make the "Thunder Run" down Route Irish tonight.  Times differ, and this is not a secure means of communication, but the trip always takes place after the 23:00 (local) curfew, so by tomorrow morning I should be snoozing inside a "transient tent" somewhere near Camp Phoenix.

What I've learned:

  • Being sick, when you are living in an open bay with 100-200 men, is inevitable.

  • Being sick, when traveling halfway around the globe, really sucks.

  • Being sick takes your mind off everything else, so there is a moderately hidden blessing.

  • C-130s (4 engine prop planes) are even more maneuverable than I imagined.  I'd been on some rough rides in training when the pilots simulated combat maneuvers.  The real thing is different.

  • Love to everyone.  Don't know when I'll be able to call, or use the Internet again, but just remember that no news is good news.

February 1, 2005 | 12:58 PM ET

Map-apalooza

We are indebted to Barry to be able to present what he has called “Map Crazy, Part III (Iraq edition)"

Parts I and II can be found here and here, respectively.  Call it everything you wanted to know about Iraq -- its geography, politics, religions, ethnicity, insurgency and violence -- but were afraid to ask...

Overview:

Violence:  Unfortunately, this has become the most prevalent type of map we've come across.

And how could we do this without throwing in a U.S. poll?

Elections

Update on democracy in Vietnam:  "U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror," New York Times, September 3, 1967, here.  The original story quotes a certain “Geoff Garvis” insisting, “What do you mean the CIA would try to manipulate the information the world is receiving about this vote?  What blood libel. It’s commies like you who made people doubt the Gulf of Tonkin attack.”

Meanwhile, Sunday’s attack numbers have risen to 260, while voting percentages are coming down.  Yet the casualty count -- 45 dead, about 100 wounded, was a veritable day at the beach compared to others, so not to worry.  Everything’s hunky dory, or at least will look that way, until Michael Jackson gets this stuff off the cable shows.  Bush promises this time.

Sontag Slander Watch:  Continuing his campaign of malignant lies about his intellectual superiors, Little Roy spews a lot of venom about Susan Sontag, including, he alleges, “Her constant attraction to murderous tyrants such as Castro and the acolytes of Bin Laden.”  Castro, maybe, that was pretty common once upon a time, and the word “constant,” makes the accusation false.  Sontag famously attacked The Nation for being too soft on communism roughly twenty-five years ago.  But “acolytes of bin Laden?”  That’s just a disgusting lie. 

We note for the record that Sullivan included both yours truly and Sontag in his infamous lie that: "The middle part of the country--the great red zone that voted for Bush--is clearly ready for war.  The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead--and may well mount a fifth column,” when he added, “These people have already openly said they do not support such a war, and will oppose it.  Read Sontag and Chomsky and Moore and Alterman and on and on, and you'll see that I'm not exaggerating.”  The only problem is that neither Sontag nor I ever opposed a military response to Al Qaida in Afghanistan.  I certainly never said so, as the little liar proclaims, and I will offer a thousand bucks to the charity of Andy’s choice—including the re-remodeling of his P-town bathroom--if he can prove I did.  Andy just made that up.

A fifty percent rate of accuracy is not high enough when you’re accusing people of treason fella.  Sullivan is right he was not “exaggerating.”  He was lying.  He still is.  America will be a better country without his blog, but I, for one, will mourn the loss of material.

And speaking of Andy’s ancestors, the conservative attempt to rehabilitate Joe McCarthy continues today with David Brooks’ column, here.  Brooks describes Whitaker Chambers as having “emerged as a melancholy but profound champion of freedom."  He was also a melancholy but profound champion of McCarthyism.  Shutting down liberals’ right to free expression is not my idea of ”freedom,” but maybe it is Brooks’.  And he describes the Iraqis as “people who, like Chambers, have spent their lives in hell.”  Excuse me but Chambers chose “Hell.”  He chose to be a traitor and a spy and then changed his mind.  Nobody asked the Iraqis in advance.  A rather large difference, I should think.

Speaking of Brooks, I find all this talk of who is the “next William Safire” odd.  I have no line into Arthur Sulzberger’s thinking, but wasn’t Brooks chosen to be the next William Safire?  His retirement was already assumed when Brooks was hired, and as it has turned out, Brooks has needed that time and more just to find his footing and return to the  quality of work he was doing before he joined the page.  Where is the law that demands Bush apologists on the Times Op-Ed page?  Where is the “replacement” for Al Hunt on the Wall Street Journal editorial page; one that is consistently well-farther to the right than anyone on the Times page?  How about a genuine left-liberal at the Times first, like the Post’s Harold Meyerson?  Conservatives already own most of the opinion real-estate in the media; there’s not a single genuine liberal anywhere on broadcast or cable TV.  I say tell the beast to feed itself.

Alter-review
I had a lovely time at the Blue Note one night last week seeing pianist Eric Reed leading a terrific tribute to one of the last century’s most significant musical talents, featuring vocals by Dena DeRose, Ann Hampton Callaway, Paula West and Andy Bey, backed by a band of Reed, Kenny Washington, Peter Washington, Harry Allen, and Jeremy Pelt.  For me the highlight was the incredible Ms. West, doing “If I Only Had a Brain” like you’ve never heard it before, (not even if you’ve heard Abbey Lincoln’s no less revelatory version).  I’d spend a lot of time giving the incredible Mr. Arlen his due, but I see I don’t need to as the New York Sun has secured the far better qualified Will Friedwald to do just that.  My favorite line of the night was also from Ms. West, who quoted Ethel Waters, (I think) terming Arlen (nee Arluck) as “the negroest Jewish man I ever met.”  I think the show is traveling so keep your eyes peeled.

Speaking of Super Bowls, Mark Kriegel’s Namath bio is unbelievably great—slightly overwritten at moments, but an incredible piece of sports scholarship and sociology, as well as a terrific story, smartly told.  The word in the business is that it is the second best book edited by the legendary (and amazingly versatile) Rick Kot for the Fall season.  If you grew up in the shadow of Joe Willie, as I did, I can almost promise you’ll find it irresistible; if you didn’t I imagine you’ll still think it pretty great.

Random thought:  What about Bono?  I’ve always admired the hell out of Bono, as a terrific world citizen and the leader of a brilliant band (which, by the way, played at my Freshman ball at the London School of Economics in 1980, and also warmed up the Talking Heads the same year).  I’ve also thought of him as one of the wealthiest rock stars in the world.  Ditto, the rest of the boys in the band.  So why in the world do they need to charge their fans over $160 for tickets to their shows?  You can break even at about $30 a ticket; the rest is going into U2’s already overstuffed pockets, and it’s coming out of the wallets of working class people—if they’re not shut out entirely.  Critics rarely write about this issue because they get the tickets for free, but it really, really, pisses me off.  U2 is by far not the worst offender.  The Eagles are charging something like $500 a ticket, and Babs, well, don’t ask.  (The Stones too.)  But those people have no pretensions to care about their less than wealthy fans.  What about Bono?

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Darrel Plant
Hometown: Portland, Oregon

Eric:
It's interesting that you should bring up the NYT piece on Andy Stern, because I was just talking about it with my father at lunch this afternoon.  My dad recently retired from the top spot in the Oregon district of the IAMAW, the organization the butt of Bai's piece, Tom Buffenbarger, heads, and has a decidedly different view, as you might guess.

I might add that my father -- before he quit school to work as a machinist and feed his family -- was working on his master's thesis in German history, and had an undergraduate in physics.

One thing he found odd was that a "reform" Bai gives Andy Stern credit for proposing is something the IAMAW  has been working on for more than a decade, namely multinational organization.  The full name of the organization is the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and they do mean it.  Even as managing business representative of the Oregon district, my father participated in a number of international cooperative meetings, traveling to Germany, the U.K., Italy, and France for meetings with European labor leaders.

He also noted that Stern seems to have missed the mark entirely on the state of Chinese unions.  Dad toured China as a part of a joint Boeing/IAMAW delegation several years ago.  He admits it is possible that things have undergone a sea-change since he was there, but the industrial union leaders he met were, first and foremost, members of the Communist Party apparatus.  It wasn't something they tried to hide, that was just the way things were done there.  Do you really believe Stern's statement 'These are public unions that are used to health benefits and real discussions."  In China?

Dad was surprised that Bai paraphrased Buffenbarger's remarks as "unions have as much power as ever."  There's no direct quote in that section, and it contradicts what my father's heard Buffenbarger say in public or private over the years he knew him.

Just for the record, my father's flown on the Learjet twice.  It's a union that used to have a million members, and still has several hundred thousand.  One of its primary constituencies are the people who make and maintain airplanes.  That's the second "A" in IAMAW.

And, of course, being a stickler for spelling, Dad got a chuckle out of the fact that Bai and the Times "factcheckers" managed to screw up what Buffenbarger started out doing.  The term "tool-and-dye" appears twice in the piece.  Machinists, of course, don't work with coloring agents.  They work with implements that shape materials, the proper term is "tool-and-die", as in "die-casting".  Of course, if Bai hadn't been so atwitter about Buffenbarger's appearance, and snarky about the aerospace workers union owning a jet, he might have actually spent some time thinking about what goes on at the training facility in Maryland when it's running classes.  Classes in what, you or I might ask?  Not Bai.  Actually, I wouldn't need to ask, because my father's spoken there as well as having attended.  Dad says Buffenbarger never sneered at his education (from Oregon State and University of Oregon), at least not to his face.

Sorry for the long mail, I hope you take the time to read it, but it seemed to my father after 30 years of working as a machinist then for the IAMAW that there's a bit of a straw man set up in the first couple of pages of Bai's piece.  It's sort of like if someone got their impression of you from a Jarvis posting.

Name: Bob Dodds
Hometown: Bethesda, MD

Eric...
Not having read the piece about Stern, but having had all my illusions taken away, believe me, labor is dead.  I have worked for the UAW, AFSCME, NEA, SEIU, Teamsters and the IBEW.  Some of my mentors have been the best labor has had to offer, Tony Mazzochi, Jerry Tucker and Pete Guidrey.  I will never work for labor again.  I could spend literally days outlining my creds, I have organized some big wins, some that are even used by the AFL-CIO for training new organizers.  But as long as the leadership only will work on maintaining their status (not even status quo sadly), then the best we can hope for from labor is the mirage that there is a voice for working people.  Otherwise it is just a bunch of weak, large egos trying for a little attention.  I've met most of them and they are so surrounded by sycophants that they would not know the world if it rear-ended them. 

I am sad, but also pretty angry.  A lot of good people will be hurt before there is ever a comeback for labor.

Is there any good union?  Yeah, the NEA is pretty good yet, and maybe the NFL players assc.  Just makes it even sadder eh?

Name: Mike Ward
Hometown: Tempe, AZ

Hi Eric,
I'm an avid soccer fan and, admittedly, I have learned a lot about the rest of the world because of this love for the game.  One country that has always been a fantastically rough and hostile place for the U.S. national team to play is El Salvador.  The fans are famous (or infamous) for throwing things onto the field, and seemingly being very intent on causing as much damage to our players as is possible.  Having been born in 1980, I was made aware of the political/social problems in Central America only very vaguely while they were actually happening, and almost not at all in the years to follow (such as my more intellectually formative years of high school and college), so the content of Mr. Danner's essay hit home to me, mostly insofar as my utter ignorance of the enormity of the tragedies of this part of the world and our government's involvement.  I had always known that the Reagan Administration was up to some seedy doings in Central America in the 80's (my family didn't keep me completely uninformed), but I was a victim, and admittedly a participant, in the sort of rational ignorance in which America loves to bask.  I can now better understand the Salvadorans' enmity and lasting bitterness toward their great "protector" up north.  Thank you for opening my eyes a bit wider.  Your column is great, please keep up the good work.  Thank you.

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